I had a conversation the other day during which I became painfully aware of the fact that I find my definition in what I do. I measure myself according to my actions and my success, or lack thereof, at performing those actions. I have a difficult time thinking of myself in any other terms.

It’s tempting to think that I can change who I am by what I do . . . “being better” usually means “doing better”. Doesn’t that sound appealing? If you can just get yourself to like taking the garbage out you’ll be a better person. I’ve heard so many times, “Just keep doing _____ and eventually you’ll like it.”

It sounds good, but it never seems to work. At least not for me. For example, no matter how often I clean my cats’ litter box I never seem to enjoy it – and I clean my cats’ litter box a lot! Taking out the garbage always feels like taking out the garbage… It doesn’t get any better, and I don’t feel any better for doing it. I’m just glad the house doesn’t stink:)
Maybe it’s the power of positive thinking. If I can just manage to think positively about what I’m doing, I’ll enjoy it. And then I’ll feel good enough about myself to derive some value from what I’ve accomplished, right? But no matter how positive I get about my cats’ litter, it never lasts. And aren’t people who are super positive about trivial things annoying?! I can’t help but think to myself, “Whoa . . . that person is in denial.” I want them to admit that cleaning the cat litter sucks! Perhaps I am just too cynical…
But the truth is, my actions (and how I view those actions) do not define me. If they did, life might be easier – then I really could dismiss people as “bad” because their actions were “bad”, or accept people as “good” because their actions were “good”. And more importantly, I could correct my own flaws by doing good things. BUT I can’t avoid the fact that Jesus teaches the exact opposite.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reveals that a person’s inward thoughts and motivations are what really matter as opposed to their outward actions (Matt 5:21-48). He also says, “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile a man . . .” (Matt 15:18-20). In other words, the fruit depends upon the root; if the root (the heart) is corrupt then the fruit (the actions) will be corrupt.

So, no matter how much I wish it weren’t true, I’ve come to believe that our motivations are always flawed, that self-interest plays a part in everything we do. Our actions are tainted because our hearts are tainted. Our only hope is that Someone from the outside might change us, from the inside out!